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After diapers and bras, cheeky smugglers use pen nib, buttons to sneak in gold at Delhi airport

A senior customs official at Delhi’s India Gandhi International Airport said that there’s been a surge in gold smuggling from the Persian Gulf in recent months.

delhi Updated: Sep 07, 2017 12:05 IST
Faizan Haidar
Faizan Haidar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Indira Gandhi International Airport,Gold smuggling,IGIA
Custom officials at Delhi airport seized 500 grams of gold worth Rs13 lakh from the passenger on August 30.(Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo )

The Customs officials at Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) stopped a man who’d just arrived from Dubai without declaring any valuables. They asked to look inside his bag.

The officials had been warned in advance by the Customs Intelligence Unit about the possibility of smuggling by passengers travelling from Dubai. This man, a resident of Muzaffarnagar in his mid-30s, did not immediately seem to be carrying anything unusual — just a pen, a shirt, a pair of jeans, a harmonica, a purse, and an umbrella.

But close inspection, and a little scratching, revealed that the nib of the pen, the buttons of the shirt and jeans, interior bits of the harmonica, the metallic rim of the purse, and the skeleton of umbrella all had something peculiar in common: they were made out of gold.

In total, 500 grams of gold worth Rs13 lakh were seized from the passenger on August 30. He is being charged under the customs act, which may lead to permanent confiscation of the gold and an additional fine.

It’s the latest in a string of hidden-gold hijinks at IGIA. In the recent months, customs officials at the airport have found gold inside diapers, an apparently untouched papaya, the rod of a pram, and the stitching of a bra.

One senior customs officer at IGIA said that 70% of recent smuggling cases at the airport had originated in flights from countries around the Persian Gulf.

The tactics have startled Delhi customs officials, who responded to the ‘golden-jeans’ episode by alerting staff at other airports to look out for gold in surprising places.

“It was probably the most difficult case to crack,” said the senior IGIA official. According to the official, the accused said that it is easy to find such incognito gold items in Dubai.

The official described a decade-long history of gold smuggling at IGIA. The crime, the official said, was most popular in the 1980s and 90s, when one of the favoured techniques was wearing secretly-hidden golden shoe soles. Before the recent surge in activity, gold smuggling had declined in response to increased duties India placed on gold in the 2015-2016 budget and the reduced liquidity in the country after demonetisation.

Now that it has been almost a year since demonetisation, the gold-smuggling market is rebounding, the official said.

First Published: Sep 07, 2017 07:49 IST